- Men’s Coups, Women’s Troubles
We are lucky that the July 15, 2016, coup was aborted in Turkey. Coups in Turkey have undermined democracy, trampled on civil rights and human rights, dismantled political organizations, and bred violence. Men planned and executed coups even though women and everybody else suffered from them. The July 15 coup was no exception. Both the coup makers and those against whom they attempted to wage the coup were patriarchal men who shaped women’s interests as they saw fit.
We do not know the exact details of the coup yet, but it looks like the Gülenists who infiltrated the military planned and attempted to execute it. Gülen was a preacher in Turkey who cultivated a huge following that developed into a transnational religious and social movement. He had his media barons and businessmen and instructed his disciples to infiltrate the military, the judiciary, and the bureaucracy to gain power from within the state. The Islamically rooted Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi; AKP) government helped the Gülenists move up within the state. The two groups were in alliance in their fight against the secularist elites in the country, particularly the military. Gülen’s disciples within the military and the judiciary staged mock trials that sent the secular top brass into prison for years until the alliance between the AKP and the Gülen community broke up over power struggles in 2013.
The coup was against a regime that, according to half its citizens, had staged a civil coup. The president had practically shelved the Constitution and established a de facto presidential rule without any checks and balances. He had unprecedented control over the judiciary, the legislature, and the media. Freedom House has ranked Turkey’s press unfree since 2014. Nevertheless, the president was not satisfied with the executive powers he had under the parliamentary system in the country and sought to change the regime to a presidential one. [End Page 175]
The coup took place in this context. It was the showdown between two patriarchal religious groups neither of which promotes women’s rights. The Gülen community is no advocate of women’s rights. Social scientists who worked on the subject long alerted us to the ways women were confined in the community (Toprak 2009; Turam 2006). Berna Turam (2006, 121–33) explains how women were expected to lead pious lives and spend their time in religious gatherings and, when needed, work voluntarily in the community’s schools or dormitories. Once in the community, they were pressured to stay in it and marry within it. Exit options were not easy. Binnaz Toprak (2009) similarly shows how the community enforced dress codes and controlled how girls behaved, what they watched and read, and how they related to the other sex.
On the other hand, the AKP government in power was set on promoting an Islamically recognized traditional division of labor between men and women. Even though the secular legal framework was strengthened in favor of male-female equality if not for LGBTQs, the AKP governments encouraged women to be mothers, housewives, and members of a flexible labor force. They upheld male hierarchy without effectively preventing women from violence in their private lives.
Some women might have chosen to be part of the Gülenists or their old allies in power regardless of these groups’ record on women’s rights because they share the conservative understanding of women’s circumscribed role in society. Yet at least half the women in Turkey who have been in the opposition do not support these alternatives. Even though they have been critical of the AKP government, many have also opposed the coup. From my feminist perspective it is important to provide substantive opportunities for women to pursue their choices, be part of democratic life and exit the groups they belong to when they choose.
Will there be a change in women’s options after the coup? In the short term, the coup weakened the government and the president and forced them to collaborate with the secular opposition against the Gülenists that have infiltrated all the institutions of...